Billy Bragg - Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy

30 years, eh? That means I was 13 when I first heard Billy Bragg's debut mini-album, now remastered and filled out with live versions of all seven tracks recorded earlier this year. At the time, Bragg seemed strange yet compelling; with just his voice and the way he scrubbed and tore at his guitar you sensed his punk rock spirit, yet much of Life's A Riot ... busied itself with the distance between the sexes as much as the more polemic material with which he would become associated. Although a sucker for pun ("I am the milkman of human kindness / I will leave an extra pint"), 'New England' and 'The Man In The Iron Mask' gave form to suburban male heartbreak, even if it needed Kirsty MacColl (and an additional Bragg-penned verse) to turn the former into a recognised standard.

Three decades on, Bragg finds himself a willing spokesman for a kind of politicised music that barely registers in today's market. With youth unemployment now as bad, if not worse, than when 'To Have and To Have Not' was written, the song still packs a punch, yet echoes into a void. It's rather sad that that we can't write these songs, or indeed Bragg, off as relics from another time, but if Frank Turner is the answer, then I sure as hell don't know what the question was. Given that barely a day goes by when we don't get submissions from yet another windswept-and-interesting young thing with an acoustic guitar, my advice would be to stop, listen to this, and if you can't find the same fire-in-the-belly attitude, you're probably wasting our time - and everyone else's.




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